Saturday, November 9, 2013

Contemporary Contemptible Art

A student sent me this and asked for a response.  Here it be!

I get caught between sympathy for the impatient and frustrated author—a person who is part of the elite culturati who knows full well the rap that justifies Tracey Emin et al—and my own open mindedness and desire to understand contemporary art on its own terms.

On the one hand, its so easy to claim "The Emperor isNaked!!!" (But since when is nudity so awful?  OK, maybe that's not really the point of the parable.  Or…maybe it IS!) I get it, contemporary art can seem disingenuous, ironic and nude-nudge-wink-wink stabs at what we hold to be dear.  Sometimes it feels like outright violent stabbing at what we hold dear, actually! It can seem a harbinger of doom owing to its (de-)evolution from skilled mimesis and earnest attempts at profundity to what seem like gratuitous toss offs made to appeal to those intent on throwing away money owing to economic hubris and a sick need for flashy swagger. The artists are having a laugh at our expense!  They are getting rich by fooling the gullible into seeing value where there is none!  
Contemporary art can seem downright misguided and just plain AWFUL, if not outright evil.  I think what people hate the most is not only the awfulness, but the galling suggestion we take it seriously ("Sometimes I wish I possessed the requisite attention span to absorb endless amounts of totally pointless bullshit.")  and the fact that some people are paying $$$ for their artwork (and not ours!)

ON THE OTHER HAND, and maybe I have been persuaded by my own open-mindedness a la "Strawberry Jam Syndrome”, perhaps there is some value to this type of work.
Certainly we cannot endorse cultural stasis or nostalgia for the "good old days" when artists did things "right" or "better".  Who are we to judge?  Tracey Emin has, perhaps, gone to great effort to put forth her work.  I think we like to assume she got her stellar career handed to her with no effort and I can't really say, because I don't know. But I do know that plenty of artists who proffer what I consider to be the most cockamamie, meaningless, unappealing crap have done so via enormous sacrifice, and……….wait for it……….they have done so for the exact same reasons I believe that MY work is what humankind is desperate to receive.
For these reasons, I found the author of the article's standard that one should "explain this exhibition to an alien or a medieval time traveler." to be a bit stringent.

I regard my own opinions and tastes as having a higher priority than others, as do most people, I assume. It is only natural to be suspicious, if not fearful, of the unrecognizable. I am guessing this serves an important purpose in that I can recognize potential danger and flee for my life. But, alas, we are no longer hunter-gatherers and there is some sort of mass-accumulation of human wisdom. Suspicion and rejection of artwork not to my taste can close my mind to artistic avenues worth considering. All this should be obvious to anyone who has ever been lectured on the immorality of prejudice (interesting side note: I originally spelled that as “prejucide”!) 
Similarly, there have been times I felt changing my mind was a corruption of my purity of vision and my sterling principles.  I worried that if I allowed myself to love an artist some people see no value in I was becoming a brainwashed art-zombie. Surely a stronger mind would stick to their guns. But I have come to see it the other way around. I am reminded that the flexible buildings are the ones that survive earthquakes. 

When it comes to opinions and judgments about art, I think its wise to question authority.  But one can never, ever forget that the most important authority to question is one's own!  If learning to love something, despite the fact that it might be “bad” or “tacky”, is even a remote possibility, then surely that merely adds to the Gross National Income of happiness.  How can that be bad??

Finally, I think its a ever so slightly biased to assume those who DO enjoy Tracey Emin's work to be doing so out of a lemming-like fear that they will be rejected from the In-Crowd or that they have been indoctrinated by some evil art conspiracy.  As with the seemingly insidious adoration for artists like Thomas Kinkade, one human's genuine appreciation and experience of authentic emotional connection with a work of art is another's human's poison.  Vive le difference!
So the point is, no one ever died of an open mind in the arts!  One of the highest ideals of humankind is to love what's loathsome and to embrace the unknown. If it turns out the emperor seems naked?  Seen another way, he is nude.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Where DO you find these images?

 This post is inspired by the plethora of responses I get when I post some of the pictures I find on my FB page.  “Where DO you find these?” or “Can I get a link?”.  So I want to post this here so every time someone really, realllly wants to know I can send him or her a link to this blog post and then THEY will be the sorry ones!
The images I post tend to fall into these broad categories:
Emblemata, Illuminated manuscripts, illustrations of fables (Aesop, Fontaine or otherwise), and images from alchemical texts.  Old illustrations liberated from their text have a tendency to suddenly become evocative and fabulous, I love them dearly.  Text is so problematic, no?  Just get rid of it!  That's why they invented Photoshop.
I don’t typically find things by doing a google search for a certain topic.  I come upon them in the course of surfing the ‘net. There are a number of sites I check every single day which reliably post interesting images.  So they are a source.  But then I am apt to follow one link to another until I am so hopelessly lost that tracing any breadcrumb trail is impossible.  Its surfing the net, after all, not spelunking the net or doing archeological digs of the net.  I am skimming across the surface covering tons of ground and paying very little attention (if any) to sources, credit or any information about the images, which might somehow identify or explain them.  See this post for why. 
For those with an urgent need to know more about the images, Google now offers a reverse image search.  It’s very easy.  Drag the image you’re wondering about to your desktop and from there, drag it back into the inquiry box of Google images.  It will prompt you to “drop image here”.  This is not only informative, but it can also lead to discoveries since it will find visually similar images as well.
Finally, I will say, I love these images.  I started out with a sort of casual wish to make the point that weird art work has been around for as long as there have been humans.  I think its hard to be truly weird.  Most images that set out to be “Weird” are contrived and silly: therefore they are automatically, ironically, not in the category of weird at all.  To be strange, there has to be enough of the typical to persuade us to drop our guards.  Then, BAM!
Hey--if you can't get enough of this type of thing, please check out my tumblr!

Below is a list of blogs I like.
(If you do not subscribe to Tumblr and weird images are your thing, well go and get an account.  It supplies you with a feed...a yummy, yummy feed, indeed.)

/// sfumato

Monday, July 29, 2013

"The Birth of Eve"

CLICK on me!
Look ma, no ribs!

I am very pleased indeed* with how this one turned out...another one a long time in the making. The garden was quite the undertaking (and I really want to make MORE!)

(*this is code for: "I am effing unbelievably thrilled, omg I love this one!! :) :)" )

There were two demo posts on the garden here and here.  These detail the conception (heh heh) of the piece and how I made the garden)

 Below are some pictures of the layers of the figure (which is blue on clear St. Just and pink on clear St. Just.)

In terms of the image, I don't have much to say about this is what it is.  And hopefully a whole lot more!
I am sure this image influenced me, although I wasn't thinking about it at the time.  (I do love The Jesus Lizard,)

I found this image somewhere on tumblr after I started this project!  But I love a good meme.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"A Play About Snakes"

 click to enlarge!

This piece took nine months to make…like being pregnant. But with snakes.

Why nine months?  Well, its true that its very detailed and it was a difficult and complex image to create, but also my work flow was really different.  During that time, I taught full time for one semester, part time another and made the piece “Our Ladies” and the garden section of “The Birth of Eve”.  I also worked a little bit on sculpture.  So it wasn’t like I devoted myself full time to this image.

Please follow these links to information as to how I made the drawing and demos (here's another post and another here and one on making the glass parts.  But, for your edification, here are the two layers that comprise the snake area completed:  (Click to enlarge)

Also: I am so pleased to share with you the fact that, because I made the drawing as an endless repeat pattern, I did pursue making it as a fabric (link) and ultimately had the very talented and lovely Karly Tufjenkian make me a blouse and skirt with the material!  OMG—I wish I could design MORE fabrics and do an entire wardrobe… but I digress.

So here’s a little essay-lette about this piece for those of you inclined to like that type of thing. What’s it all about?
Often the "story” of my pieces exists in my mind as a narrative of their creation as opposed to “about” something external.  This is no exception.  I began the work on snakes last August and the parameters I set for myself was to do something intensely complex technically because I knew that I would soon be teaching full time and that I cannot think about my own work and teach at the same time.  However!  I am most excellent at accomplishing TASKS.  So I figured I would come up with some crazy thing that would take a lot of mindless work to make.  I have always wanted to do snakes so snakes it was.  My first thought was to use the snakes as a back ground for an unresolved  figure I have in glass I am calling "Cassandra"

As I began making the snakes, more was revealed.  Get it?  That’s a reference to both my process of generating “Meaning” and the image itself.  Here I had this magnificent image of a pit of snakes, roiling and entwined but how to resolve it? I truly disliked the way "Cassandra" was interacting.  It just didn't work for me at all. 

  I felt I should include the human element, and being me, it took all my willpower to not put an entire figure in there.   But I just knew that that would be all wrong.  Here’s my first idea.
Its like the foot at the beginning of "Monty Python"!
Unsatisfied, I tabled the piece for a while.  When I got back to it, I was thinking about the following trompe l’oueil painting and decided that would be how I would deal with my snakes.  This brought to mind the famous painting by Charles Wilson Peale, "The Artist in his Museum" (1822)

(Oil on canvas. (The Joseph Harrison Jr. Collection.) Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Museum:

Adriaen van der Spelt (Dutch, 1630-1673)
Frans van Mieris (Dutch, 1635-1681)

Trompe-l'Oeil Still Life with a Flower Garland and a Curtain, 1658
Oil on panel
18 1/4 x 25 1/8 in. (46.5 x 63.9 cm)

This was the source for the hands.  I saw this years ago in New Orleans.

And thus, I was finally pleased enough to move forward with my piece.  But then came a set of fresh dilemmas!  Do the hands just like the Watrous grave or less symmetrical?  One hand or two?  Can I please, please, pretty please with sugar include a whole figure?  (NO!) 

Final choice (please note, this mean I had to turn the whole thing upside down!)
I guess, I eventually came to realize I was suggesting that all the world’s a stage, and when you sweep back the stage curtain on this life to reveal the true nature, it is a den of vipers…but such beautiful ones!  And why judge so harshly?  Snakes are good creatures!
The careful observer will detect that it’s a repeat pattern and thus the “realism” is foiled a bit.  Is it merely a backdrop on the stage and not the main event?  At any rate, the border is there, surrounding the image to remind you “This is Not a Pipe” but an image and while I laboriously did the interior by analogue the border is the exact same pattern but reproduced mechanically.  So HA!

Dress by Karly Tufjenkian

Monday, July 15, 2013

Glass Secessionism

What is Glass Secessionism? Glass Secessionism is a movement started (on Facebook and at his school in Washington DC) by artist and educator Tim Tate.  I applaud the audacity of anyone who starts an art movement, regardless of what its all about!  Holy moly—after being a studio artist and a teacher, that anyone would have the energy to spare is admirable, to say the least.

Much of the gist of it is:
“My premise is that to succeed in glass in the 21st century, we have to secede from 20th Century founded Studio Glass. The Studio Glass model was firmly in place. It was time to integrate into the Fine Art World. What we needed was a bridge between these two worlds, to assist in this transition which was coming so very quickly.”
“However, we believe that great art should be driven primarily by artistic vision, and technique should facilitate the vision. For too long, technique has driven the majority of studio glass. As Secessionists we do not seek to isolate ourselves from other artists working in glass, but to enhance the field as a whole.”

OK!!! Back to me! The horrifying has happened and I have a public-ish platform for my opinion and, amazingly, some people even take me seriously.  Since I am mentioned in the Glass Secessionism manifesto and am an active participant on the movement’s Facebook page, I thought, perhaps, I should say something about it…so here we go…
(DISCLAIMER!  I count Tim Tate amongst my dear friends and am a fan of his artwork.)

My response:
I have some issues, surprise, surprise!
(Some are petty gripes with the way the history is delineated.  It was my experience that this dialectic between conceptualism and technique has been there a lot longer than since the early aughts.  But that's really a detail. Why not claim Duchamp's "The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even" as the first Seecessionist piece?  If for no other reason than he only claimed it was finished when the darned thing broke.)

I am as fed up as the next guy/gal with stoooopid glass objects. But I refuse to only disparage the ones that are insufferably idiotic because they are “too techniquey” any more than the ones that are guilty of lame-ass conceptualizing.  Why, oh why do we have to go there all the time?  There being the place where production is severed from inspiration.

The manifesto expressly states: “It [Glass Secessionism] tends to start with an idea or concept rather than perfecting or exploring a technique.”  Uh oh!  I have a big, big problem with this. My main issue with the Glass Secessionism manifesto is it’s prioritizing of narrative and conceptuality above technique.  In my utopia, any system that equally favors... NO!  adamantly refuses to even recognize a space between conception and labor is the very cure for any number of art related ills.

As I said in my skill piece (and I increasingly find this trend to be a major theme in my thinking about what ails us today)...:
“The whole sequestering of concept from process in art lines up on mind/body split lines, us versus them lines and good versus bad lines—as do, ultimately, all issues that would divide art from craft. Anything that dissociates inspiration from process or soul and material will be reflected in Art versus Craft.   Skill is one end in the learning curve of process. It has little to offer as a sole criterion by which to base or assess an art experience and I can see why artists, theorists, critics etc. would begrudge so-called art works that are of this ilk. Skill for its own sake is as bereft as the notion of bad technique justifying or ensuring the primacy of concept. It must be attached to some deeper meaning for an artwork to resonate deeply.  What should be judged in an artwork is how credible and inevitable the interface between matter and spirit, be that a rude and crude modality or precise and refined, regardless of whether it is related to utilitarian function or cerebral contemplation.”

If Glass Secessionism is to make good on the following bullet point: “There are a number of facets of the glass world I purposefully seceded from: [one being] The continual tedious discussion of the faulty “art vs craft” binary”; then it is essential that it not perpetuate that binary by conceding the notion that, in an artwork, concept is something that exists outside of technique.   For that same reason, I think the movement should stop harping on the differences between vessels and sculpture.

A secondary issue is the idea of “seceding”.  Maybe I spent too much time reading about the American Civil War…but…yikes!
I’m for integration and for preserving the union but should that not be possible, I far prefer the following scenario:  in my utopia, the forms formerly known as “Painting” and “Sculpture” will soon be banging at the gate of Craft begging for entrance.  At that time, we should do our best to graciously admit them to our wonderful, wonderful world with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the art world’s wounds

Saturday, July 13, 2013

"Mother and Child"

I had the occasion to write about a specific piece recently, “Mother and Child” from 2006.  I figured I would share it on the blog.

Size: 34” x 23”
Materials: stained glass, sandblasted, engraved, vitreous paint, cold
paint, assembled with copperfoil and displayed in a lightbox

Exhibition history:
“Burning Inside” solo show at Claire Oliver, 2007
"Judith Schaechter, New Parables in Glass", Claire Oliver Gallery, 2008
"Pretty is as Pretty Does", Site Santa Fe, 2009

In 2006 we are in the midst of the conflict in Iraq.
Prior to that, in the early 2000’s, I had developed a strong interest in the American Civil War (1861-1864) and had, for several years, confined my reading to that subject alone.  I was struck in my reading by fact that, for the most part, men sacrifice their lives and women?  Well, women sacrifice their sons (in the Civil War, there were no female soldiers).
How heartbreaking it is.

sketch (drawing, photoshop) for the piece
When making “Mother and Child” I sought to express these dual, entwined losses by referencing the “Good Shepherd” image.   I will say, that at the time I did not know there was a named tradition for that pose (I am not religious)—I found out later.  One thing about it I found appealing is that it is a form of a pieta.  At the outset, I was merely selecting the poise for its poignancy, implications of strength, sorrow and weariness.
As always I was highly concerned with the female figure’s facial expression and posture.  I tried to convey the many emotions she might feel in her position; grief, pride, hope that her son’s death was for a worthy cause, and a sense that she must be strong just to go forth another day.

The surrounding imagery of the red tree was also intuitive.  To me, it has come to signify, as a plant often does, growth and life.  And yet its leaves also resemble flames so perhaps, at least visually, it hearkens its own destruction.  The sun beats down on the scene in stylized pink rays, which could be a sort of nuclear apocalyptic look or graphic flag-like image.  I wanted a color as unnatural and alarming for the sky as I feel war is as a condition for humankind. 

The border is based on the yellow plastic “caution” tape placed around construction sites and crime scenes.

another reference for the piece
I do not typically work with overt political messages, this window was one of my few attempts to address global events and I tried to do so on a personal, one-to-one level and in a non-didactic way.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Kill Skill

Exitus Acta Probat --The outcome justifies the deed
"The outcome justifies the deed"

Saturday, June 1, 2013


Ladies and gentlemen: here is the Garden of Eden, completed.
Click on it so you can actually maybe see it, if you please!

It is the bottom half of a piece I will be titling “The Birth of Eve”…all those plans, of course are subject to change.
 Sketch (photoshop, human hands)

I posted process shots here and on facebook and... oh look!  Here they are again:
 For god's sake click to enlarge!

The process is as follows:
1. Sandblast glass  to get some areas clear (on  the red layer sandblast to clear where anything will be blue, green, yellow, pink or clear . Sandblast the blue to clear where anything will be red, orange, yellow, pink or clear.  Sandblast the pink to clear wherever you want things to be blue, green or clear or yellow.  Is that confusing?  No worries!  You don’t really have to conceptualize this that much—just sandblast!!!! )
2. Use permanent maker to delineate design
3. Engrave flowers on both layers
4. Paint, then fire the paint
5.  Engrave a bit more
6.  Paint again and fire
7.   Last paint and fire (if it needs it)
8.  Silverstain and fire
9.  Engrave the silverstain
10.  Firepolish

Also for your perusal are images of the layers separated.

 These lead lines are fake so you can read the image easier.

Now  that the how-to is evident, go off and make one of these suckers.  I dare you!